Bitcoin And The Pedagogy Of The Oppressed

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I have taught teenagers mathematics for my entire career. More recently, I also found great joy in teaching people about Bitcoin. Among the lessons I have learned through the years is that in order for a student to truly learn a new and challenging concept, they need to feel comfortable and have a voice in their learning process. Today, the most effective teachers are able to foster a dynamic community of engaged students that have agency in what and how they learn. But this wasn’t always so.

In Paulo Freire’s foundational book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he established a framework of teaching and learning that he called the “banking model of education”. It will not surprise Bitcoiners to learn that Freire’s use of banking is meant as a pejorative. Written in the late 1960s, the book compared the era’s dominant teaching method to a teacher filling an empty vessel with deposits. The bank — in this case, a piggy bank — is the student. Under this model, the teacher embodies the active role of deciding what gets taught and what constitutes true knowledge. He or she serves the agenda of the oppressor — even if unwittingly — by choosing what and how much knowledge the students will receive. At no point can the teacher give enough information or encourage enough critical thinking to threaten the world created by the oppressor. By contrast, the student is a passive receiver of knowledge. The student has no agency and can make no decisions about their learning. The student receives deposits, but is unable to do anything with them. Success for both individuals in the relationship is defined and measured by the deposits made into the bank.

Freire explains: “The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are” (page 72). The key to this framework is to understand teacher and student as opposites. The teacher is the authority and the student is an object to be manipulated. In this old system, the teacher issues directives and makes deposits, while the student is passive and has no ability to question authority or be involved in their own learning process. It is important for me to note that in 2023, thanks in large part to Freire’s work, this is no longer how most good teachers operate or measure their success. This is not how I run my classroom. As a Bitcoiner, I’m not sure I could.

Moving beyond the classroom, it seems apropos to extend this bank metaphor about education to banking itself. Outside the classroom, most people trying to learn about the legacy financial system have at some point felt like the meek vessel receiving deposits that were chosen by someone else. What people learn about how the banking industry works, how much they learn, and the opacity of the lessons all seem to be decided by someone in a position of authority, acting — even if unwittingly — for the benefit of the oppressor. Banks are far too profitable to allow regular folks to learn too much about them. In Freire’s language the banking industry is serving the role of the teacher and oppressor, while regular folks are the passive vessels. The students. The piggy banks. The oppressed.

The main trouble with the banking system of education is poignantly summarized in the book: “The capability of banking education to minimize or annul the students’ creative power and to stimulate their credulity serves the interests of the oppressors, who care neither to have the world revealed nor to see it transformed” (page 73). It is hard not to read such a sentence and think critically about how our financial system — something we interact with everyday — is taught to people. The dominant forces working within the financial system have no desire to have regular folks understand the role of the central bank, how money is created, why inflation happens, the details of fractional reserve banking, the relationship between government and banks, or the boom-bust business cycle and what causes it. The way finance is taught simply serves to “annul” our creativity and “stimulate” our credulity. The ability (or even the desire) to question the system is eroded. Those in power have no interest in revealing their world or having it transformed.

In Freire’s framework, the banking system of education is so pernicious because the tranquility of the oppressor “rests on how well people fit the world the oppressors have created, and how little they question it” (page 76). We saw earlier this year how impactful it is to question the systems that the banks have created. Bank runs, like the one that devastated Silicon Valley Bank in March, serve to question the world of the oppressor. Among many other things, a bank run is a challenge to authority and an explicit refusal to trust. Once relegated as a relic of the past, apparently bank runs are very real and can cause an unsettling recalibration of one’s understanding about how a bank works. And as we saw in March, the bank run at SVB wasn’t contained and was barely controlled. There were immediately contagion concerns about the regional banking industry. Indeed, this is the threat to tranquility that the banking sector does not want. Regular folks who have never needed to question their bank began to do so, even though they weren’t supposed to. To be clear, the oppressor’s industry isn’t being transformed by a bank run; it is being revealed.

Taking your money out of a bank is just one of the ways that us regular folks (students in Freire’s framework) can take agency and control of our learning and understanding of how money works, both within the old system and likely new ones. At the heart of a bank run are the very foundations of Bitcoin’s ethos; self-custody, don’t trust, verify, and question authority. It is no surprise to Bitcoiners that banks don’t want you thinking like this. It is far more profitable to keep people ignorant. To trust the banks is to continue giving them low-interest loans with which they can take risks to reap huge profits while our government serves as their backstop. To trust the banks is to not understand that your “money” is really the bank’s liability. Folks rushing to withdraw their funds from SVB were asking dangerous questions, perhaps for the first time. These people are Bitcoiners that just don’t know it yet.

Bank runs are just the beginning of this next stage. As we students wake up to our power and agency, the cracks in the old system grow. Whether it is a bank run or orange pilling a friend, we have the power to question the old system. Indeed, questioning the old system is all that is needed to topple it. Each new Bitcoiner is another leak in the dam. The people in charge of the legacy financial system will try to distract and redirect, but once you see the inevitability of the dam breaking, there is no unseeing it. Learning about Bitcoin is a self-directed, interdisciplinary journey in which people need to take responsibility and control over their learning process. Bitcoiners are decidedly lifelong learners. This is precisely what Pedagogy of the Oppressed advocates in respect to the “banking system of education”. People should learn about things that are important to their lives and have agency about how they learn. I see this happening in every corner of the Bitcoin community.

And what is your role? My role? It is certainly not to be a “well intentioned bank-clerk teacher” that unwittingly promotes the facts that the oppressor wants promoted. The most impactful thing we can do is to encourage curiosity within our pre-coiner friends and have them take control of their learning journey. By learning about Bitcoin in any serious way, one will necessarily learn about the legacy financial system and all of its flaws and exploitation; in many ways, it is better for the person you care about to discover that on their own. As a Bitcoiner, your role is to provide resources, kindle creativity, keep an open mind, and learn as you teach. And, perhaps most importantly, your role is to meet people where they are in their journey. As Freire correctly points out, “one does not liberate people by alienating them” (page 79). It is critically important to provide resources and guidance that empowers learners and makes them feel motivated to discover more.

It is painfully clear that we, as a society, do a horrible job of educating people about the financial system. This is no coincidence and no mistake. The oppressors cannot maintain their system while also encouraging the students to ask why it exists or what it accomplishes. Bitcoin provides a better pedagogy, one in which the student is empowered to take an active role in their learning and explore the how and why for themselves. I believe this Bitcoin pedagogy is the new pedagogy of the oppressed, a way of teaching and learning that is designed, from its inception, to liberate people. And we need you. If you are reading these words, you should be thinking about yourself as a teacher-learner for Bitcoin, and you are just in time. This new pedagogy, and your involvement in it, is of paramount importance as we enter the “then they fight you” phase in Bitcoin’s journey.

Each week we are faced with damning new narratives about Bitcoin. It’s unsettling for those who have done the hard work of understanding the best monetary technology the world has ever known. These damning (and false) narratives are simply deposits being made into regular folks by the banking industry, the media, and politicians. These entities are deciding what constitutes true knowledge and how much of it you are allowed to have. They are acting, even if unintentionally, to dull your ability to question the old system. Each attack on Bitcoin is really meant as a defense of the profit-making system the oppressors have created. As Freire notes, “the interests of the oppressors lie in changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them” (page 74). This remains fundamentally true today in the relationship between banks and their customers.

Referring to the oppressor-teacher attempting to stifle any threat to a profitable system, Freire says “thus they react almost instinctively against any experiment in education which stimulates the critical faculties” (page 73). Indeed, powerful forces are currently using the old banking system of education to react against bitcoin as an experiment in money. This is because Bitcoin, undoubtedly, stimulates the critical faculties and encourages people to question the authority of the old system. The threat to their system is not just that bitcoin is better money, but it is also that it encourages better learning about money.

As you continue to teach and learn about Bitcoin, remember that the oppressor does not want you in charge of your learning. They don’t want you to be able to question their system. They do not want their world revealed or transformed. They want you and everyone you care about to be piggy banks and remain oppressed.

Bitcoin, of course, doesn’t care about what they want.


1. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, thirtieth anniversary edition. ed., trans. Myra Bergman Ramos (New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1993).

C. Jason Maier

This article is featured in Bitcoin Magazine’s “The Withdrawal Issue”. Click here to subscribe now.

A PDF pamphlet of this article is available for download.

This is a guest post by Jason Maier. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.

Bitcoin Doesn’t Care About Progressives, But You Should

Bitcoin adoption is inevitable in the long run, but putting political division aside and building a broad coalition will shorten that path.

This is an opinion editorial by Jason Maier, a teacher and author of “A Progressive’s Case For Bitcoin.” Disclaimer: This book was published by Bitcoin Magazine.

Does Bitcoin need progressives?

The simple answer to this question is no, Bitcoin doesn’t need progressives. We can all quote the memes by heart: Bitcoin doesn’t care. Tick tock, next block. Bitcoin is inevitable. Bitcoin can’t be regulated. I believe each of these mottos are true, in their own ways, in the long term. But recently, I have devoted a lot of energy to answering the converse of this question, namely: Do progressives need Bitcoin?

My book answers this more intricate question thoroughly in the affirmative. And while it’s easy to conclude, with confidence, that Bitcoin doesn’t need progressives, it might be interesting to consider why you should care at all that I’m on a mission to orange pill as many progressive liberals as I can. It’s true that Bitcoin doesn’t care. But I think you should.

Shortening The Long Run

As clear as it is to me that Bitcoin will ultimately succeed, it is also clear that the support of liberals and those on the left of the political spectrum, while not an absolute necessity, is important nonetheless. Even if Bitcoin is inevitable in the long run, there is an awful lot of time between now and the end of that long run. That time can be filled with growing adoption, innovation and promoting freedom money across the planet. Or that time can be filled with political fighting at every level of every government across the globe. Plenty of people reading this may not care, or they may even welcome the fighting. But in the long run, I’ll be dead and the world would be a better place if more people understood and used Satoshi Nakamoto’s innovation before my stack of corn gets passed along to my children.

There are Bitcoiners who do not align with me politically, but nonetheless support my work. These folks like to remind me that Bitcoin is money for enemies. This is not only true, but actually an important property of all “good” money. Furthermore, it is also critical to remember that, in this narrow sense, no Bitcoiner is your enemy, regardless of how they align themselves within the legacy political system. While left and right may fight about everything else, it is imperative that we unite when it comes to Bitcoin, because doing so provides our best opportunity to replace our current system before the end of the long term.

Overhaul The System

Like many people, my vision of bitcoin is that it is money for everyone. I also see it as the best tool we have to replace the corrupt, opaque and regressive global financial system which we have all inherited. At some point, the people who control the current system will actually start to fight Bitcoin and when they do, they will fight hard. The current environmental fear,uncertainty and doubt (FUD) and the recent closing of fiat onramps to crypto exchanges will look quaint in comparison. Powerful interests from Washington, D.C., to High Street will be able to pull their levers to make it difficult for any non-expert to learn about bitcoin, gain access to it or store it securely. Each of the players in the current game are incentivized to keep it running as long as possible and they have access to tremendous resources to help make that happen. Perhaps, for the first time, the issue isn’t powerful interests trying to make more money, it is the very definition of money itself. It will be a war and they will pull out all the stops.

Some Bitcoiners confidently claim that Bitcoin bans don’t matter because people are able to move to places where Bitcoin isn’t banned. If Bitcoin becomes illegal in some countries, or even some states within the U.S., we might have a chance to see how difficult jurisdictional arbitrage is in practice. Those with wealth and connections may be able to move to a different country that embraces Bitcoin. Those struggling to get by will be left behind. Even Ted Cruz was dismissive of the idea when he quipped to a Bitcoin audience recently, “How many folks here have your El Salvadoran passports?”

I don’t often agree with Cruz, but he is right. It’s hard to see how the emergency plan of everyone moving to El Salvador can fulfill the promise that “Bitcoin is for everybody” within my lifetime.

But perhaps the goal of those currently in power won’t be to make Bitcoin illegal, but instead to just keep us fighting about it from our entrenched and polarized political viewpoints. Since their goal is to protect the current system, they likely won’t start by outlawing their competition, but instead they would just keep people arguing about it.

The best outcome for those seeking to maintain the status quo is for the public to see Bitcoin as a right versus left issue, something else to divide people while those in charge continue to benefit from the current systems. And there is every reason to think that this will happen. Currently, there are a small number of liberal politicians who regularly attempt to win political points by bashing Bitcoin. If the tactic proves successful over time, others will add their voices to the chorus. On the flip side, some conservative legislators have rushed not only to support Bitcoin, but also highlight that the politicians on the left don’t. Eventually, all of the FUD, roadblocks and political fighting could reach a crescendo, at which point Bitcoin would start feeling a lot less inevitable.

Make The War Impossible

The window to get in front of this narrative is small and rapidly closing. My strong belief is that the secret to our collective success isn’t in convincing the politicians in power that Bitcoin is a force for good, but instead it’s in educating the citizens that vote for those politicians. We still have a chance to do so. Most pre-coiners just haven’t thought about Bitcoin a lot. I have seen that once people are given an opportunity to learn and ask questions, they are often convinced of Bitcoin’s value proposition. However the converse can also be true. If we get to the point where the government tries to ban Bitcoin, there will likely be a large swath of the population that will conclude that it must be bad. If public sentiment turns from “bitcoin is pretend money” to “Bitcoin is a bad thing for bad people,” it will be hard to unring that bell. Such an outcome doesn’t make Bitcoin’s success any less likely in the long run, but it can push back adoption, innovation, the building of infrastructure and education by decades. This would not only lock us in an outdated system, but also delay the real-life benefits that Bitcoin offers to the people who need this technology now.

Because of Bitcoin’s superior monetary properties, it will eventually win and become a preferred method of storing and transferring value among the world’s citizens. We know those currently in power are incentivized to fight Bitcoin. If given the chance, they will. But, even though we could win their war, we still have an opportunity to make such a war politically impossible in the first place. Doing so should be considered an imperative. Cory Klippsten makes a similar argument, employing Nassim Taleb’s framework of “The Intransigent Minority.” Klippsten’s claim is that if Bitcoin reaches 10 million supporters in the United States, that small but unmoving minority will make it practically impossible to fight the technology.

Even if imperfect, the schematic holds some intuitive value. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Klippsten’s 10 million number is correct. It would be foolish to think that we will reach that goal (in “The Race To Avoid The War”) without intentionally expanding the scope of our target audience. So far, progressives remain a fairly-untapped option for such an expansion. Further, our coalition of 10 million will be stronger and more antifragile if it is heterogeneous across the political spectrum. A robust coalition of Bitcoiners that spans the political spectrum will be impossible to ignore and harder to fight. This is why I, and many others like me, are bringing the case for Bitcoin to progressive people however we can. I think that should matter to you.

Bitcoin Doesn’t Care, But You Should

The world needs us to orange pill progressives. I very much want to reach Klippsten’s 10 million target and see the intransigent minority of Bitcoiners shape the future of money. The good news is that there is a growing catalog of Bitcoin educational resources offered through a progressive lens. There is also a growing and vocal progressive community within the Bitcoin space. Thanks to these tools, we have an opportunity, however fleeting, to reach more people and convince them of Bitcoin’s promise. And we need your help.

This is a call to action. Don’t shy away from conversations about Bitcoin with a liberal colleague, in-law or neighbor. Try to reach those people where they are and explain how Bitcoin addresses the unfairness they care about in the current system. Many progressives will respond well to an informed discussion about how and why Bitcoin addresses wealth inequality or gives property rights to marginalized groups of people. You may have more success than you think. If you’re unable to convince them yourself, direct them to appropriate books, podcasts and articles so they can continue their learning.

There is no doubt that we will eventually reach the tipping point when Bitcoin becomes inevitable. When that happens, it will be critical to have a variety of political ideologies represented in our coalition if we are to find the greatest success. The only unknown that remains is if we will act quickly enough to reach that tipping point before the war. I am optimistic that we will, and to that end I will continue to orange pill as many progressives as I can. I hope you will join me in that work.

This is a guest post by Jason Maier. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.